A few years ago, at one of the last poetry readings of the now defunct Reading Series at the Casa Romantica in San Clemente, I discovered the work of poet Victoria Chang. That night I picked up a copy of Work Backward, a CD produced during the third year of the series, which includes Chang reading two of her poems aloud. One of these is “Seven Changs”, which I love and listen to often.
When I learned that Victoria Chang will be on a poetry panel at this year’s Literary Orange (the yearly author festival of OC Public Libraries coming up on April 5th ), I knew that I wanted to read at least one of her collections in order to introduce you, our Book Talk readers, to her work.
I chose first to read Chang’s 2005 collection, Circle, which won the Crab Orchard Review Open Competition Award. I next plan to read her Salvinia Molesta (2008) and her most recent collection, The Boss (2013). Although I am a poetry lover, I should note here that my undergraduate degree is not in literature, so you are definitely getting a layperson’s feelings about Victoria Chang’s work here and not literary analysis. But hopefully this may encourage you to pick up Chang’s and other poets’ works to read -- poetry is for everyone, no matter what our background. I would go so far as to say that everyone needs poetry, but that’s another blog entry.A major theme of Circle which stood out to me was that of romantic relationships, along with the subthemes of the search for love/connection, communication difficulties, jealousy, and women feeling unappreciated or trapped in unhealthy relationships. One poem on these themes which I really enjoyed was “Man in the White Truck”, which Chang also reads aloud on the Work Backward album. I believe that this poem concerns the pursuit of a love that ultimately cannot be, and the narrator appears to reveal how her love interest actually feels when she writes, “And I wonder / why I am not on your list of the ten most stolen…” Some of the other themes of the collection include parent-child relationships and the common female experience. On these themes I especially enjoyed the poems “Holiday Parties” and “Year of the Bombshell” respectively.
I really enjoyed the entire collection of poems in Circle and it is impossible to pick a favorite. Chang’s poems are honest and original, creative and far-ranging in their subjects, and most of all, highly accessible. But I did want to close with a few lines of the aforementioned “Seven Changs” which I feel illustrate Chang’s ability to combine honesty with humor. The themes of this poem appear to me to be ambition, feelings of not measuring up and the often-thwarted desire to be unique, and it opens with: “At night your growth rate doubles and each morning I spot / yet another Chang / in the newspaper, staring at me with its dull lamps. I limp up / a mountainside / towards a growing opal. Oracle, is this the way up to the little office / with orange lights?”
I highly encourage you to check out and read a collection of Victoria Chang’s poetry and come hear her speak at Literary Orange!